The kitchen now works as a kitchen again… Almost.
I have been telling the story of how we took the opportunity presented by a boiler and water cylinder failure and transformed a somewhat dark and crowded room into a lighter, open and more spacious creative area. How I ran some remedial repairs, drew up a plan, knocked down walls, added new cupboards and doors, and generally took the chance to upgrade our most important room. Now it’s time to cross the ‘t’s and dot the ‘i’s, and finally get some woodwork in.
Throughout the rebuild I have been saying how I wanted open shelves on one side of the kitchen rather than cabinets, as they would create a more open and lighter space. So, how to begin? First, I would need some wood, enough to make these shelves and others for the room.
I started by asking my local wood store, Adhectic, for advice. They suggested that since I was going to want shelves of different sizes, cut to fit, I could consider getting a block board countertop and cutting the pieces out of there. Block board countertops come in various lengths, widths and thicknesses, and I think represent a great value way of getting large areas of solid, flat wood at a good price. In the blog post, The Boy’s Desk, I talk about another project I created using this kind of block board. I suspect there will be several more projects involving this wood in the future.
So, where do I need shelves, and how many should (or can) I make? A quick list tells me:
- Big shelves around the new window.
- A curved shelf to fit under the countertop by the new back door.
- Bookshelves to fit in the space created by the stud partition.
- A small shelf to fit in a corner and stand a radio on.
- A new spice rack!
A block board countertop 3m long, 60cm deep and 2.7cm thick was ideal for fitting each of these shelves. Here’s how I planned out the pieces (using PowerPoint, naturally!):
So, first the big shelves. From the outset I wanted these to perform double duties, first as places to put things, and second as places to hang things from. As great tea and coffee drinkers we have amassed a big collection of cups, pots and other paraphernalia. It seemed immediately obvious that we should have the most used pieces directly accessible right by the kettle, so I planned on covering the underside of one shelf with cup hooks.
Similarly, I knew we would want easy access to a lot of different cooking utensils. We chose styles of implements that had loops on the handles so that we could hang them below another shelf.
The main dependency for this plan was in the shape of the brackets that would secure the shelves to the walls. I hadn’t yet discovered hidden shelf supports, (such as I used a few years later when I built a tumbledown shelf unit in our end room), so I was relying on finding brackets that would not get in the way of the hanging items. In then end I found these slim, strong, L-shaped brackets that were less than a centimetre in diameter. They were simple and clean, having no cross braces or other obstructions, yet would easily take the weight of the shelves and their contents. A very good find!
These brackets suited shelves about 19-20cm deep, which was ideal for the task in hand, especially as the wood I had was 60cm deep – I could cut three shelves from one slice of the wood. (I actually planned to use 4 shelves, but in the end only fitted three. The fourth shelf piece went to work elsewhere in the house.)
At the other end from the sink, I had extended the new work surface as far towards the new back door as I could. I also made the most of our choice of Corian by designing a big curve into the top. This took the corner off the counter near the fridge, leaving a wider gap and better access for the door. It did mean however that I couldn’t put a fitted cupboard or drawers at this end. This was ok as we also needed a space for cat food bowls to live, so that area under the curve became the cats’ dining area. What would make it ideal would be to have a shelf below the counter to store food tins and boxes.
This shelf would be quite large, at about 55 x 60 cm, but that was fine as it could still be cut from the block board countertop. I would need to saw a curve, but fortunately I already had a form for this – the Corian manufacturers had made a fibreboard mock-up of the counters as a template to work with, and they had kindly provided this template with the finished product. I took the curved end, shaved a few centimetres off round the edge to accommodate the overhang of the counter over the cupboards, and used this to cut the curved shelf. It fitted very well!
We needed somewhere to store cookbooks. We have a sizeable collection from BBC TV Chefs which provide excellent meal ideas, and, conveniently, all seem to be a standard size. As it happens, I had created a small nook where the counter wrapped around the wall into the doorway to the dining room and up against the short section of stud partition. This was an ideal space for the books.
I created two bookshelves to fit in here. They were a strange shape, as they needed to slot into the space behind and around a cupboard. Also, I wanted the outer corner of the shelf to follow the curve of the kitchen counter, and so ended up with a sort-of L shape with rounded top. Again I was helped here by being able to make a template from the fibreboard used by the Corian manufacturers, which gave me just the shape I needed.
The bookshelves left me with a few offcuts of the block wood , one of which I saw was about the right size to make a small shelf for a radio to sit on. I gave this a curve to fit in with the general theme of shelves in the room, and then found a radio to suit.
This radio led to me making what must be the shortest power extension cable ever constructed. I made this because the nearest power point to the radio had USB sockets built in (chosen so we had somewhere to recharge bike lights, Fitbits, portable speakers and other gadgets that hang around in kitchens). Unfortunately, the radio’s power supply was shaped such that it obscured one of the USB ports, rendering it useless. So, I found an old length of flex and a plug (a old “kettle lead” in fact) and added a socket to the end, into which the radio’s plug could be placed. This was just long enough to wrap neatly around the counter, allowing the radio plug to be tucked away in the corner.
The whole lot are now nicely hidden by the bread machine and fruit bowl.
The last thing I made from the countertop was a spice rack. This is the classic woodwork project which I think every aspiring sawyer has to attempt at least once.
I made ours by taking long strips of the block wood and cutting them into C shapes – hollowing out their middles so to speak. I then ran the router around the inside bottom edge of these C shapes to create recesses into which I could glue and pin pieces of hardboard. The hardboard became the floor of the rack shelves, and the wood block material became the sides. The blockboard forms a lip just tall enough to show the jars whilst stopping them from falling over the edge. Each shelf was then attached to the wall using metal corner brackets. The effect, when viewed from normal head height, is of a set of mini shelves that carry the look of the main shelves in the room.
I initially made three of these, then added a fourth, made slightly larger to accommodate bigger jars and packets as our spice collection grew.
I still have a few bits of the countertop wood remaining. I just need a use for them, and a place where they will fit. In the meantime, our kitchen has worked well for over a decade now. I’m still very pleased to have given it a go.